What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Introducing CR2P: The Causal Responsibility to Protect

We will come back to Afghanistan in this post, of course. But for a detour, I would like to put Kiribati (Keer-i-bass, as it has to be pronounced) in the limelight for a start. Watch this video first (embedded below), warning of the partly anthropogenic-climate-change-induced doom of the islands. Their fate shall be sealed by 2050 according to the video, which of course is just one estimate out of the many that are available, relying on a (huge) number of different models.


To make it clear, I am taking Kiribati's fate seriously.
But the video itself is almost counterproductive as a documentary, one that is supposedly meant to help create awareness. It raises awareness of things like how an old guy finds the heat much worse than in his heydays. Khm. It also raises awareness of vegetation dying out on an island after... after a causeway had been built nearby. It's just not working very well...
What it should focus on with much more persistence, and citing hard data a lot, is how unusually high tides, and the flooding/inundations brought about by them, occur more regularly. It is just too eager to show worrying signs everywhere.
Sea level rise is the key challenge. It is not fully anthropogenic. But human activity does contribute to global warming, and through that it does contribute to the melting of glaciers, the reductions in the perennial ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, and the thermal expansion of the oceans. Sea level rise doesn't have to lead to a complete submersion of Kiribati under the ocean. Kiribati doesn't have to become a "modern-day Athlantis," as is fashionable to say, for it to become uninhabitable. And of course it is not just Kiribati that can be threatened by sea level rise, but other islands and coastal regions elsewhere as well. Countries like Kiribati are special because they are sovereign countries that could disappear as soon as their state territory becomes just a bunch of barren objects in the middle of a large body of water.
"The clock is ticking," as they say, for example in the Global Humanitarian Forum's now well-known "tck, tck, tck" initiave. For countries like Kiribati it certainly does seem to be.
Debating climate change takes on very direct political relevance in their case. If "polluting countries" are, say, an x percent responsible for global warming which translates into y milimetres of all of the observable sea level rise, than that could as well be expressed in economic losses denominated in dollars, yens, yuans and euros, whichever you prefer. So at least to that extent, the countries concerned would be causally responsible to protect Kiribati as much as possible, or to compensate people there for what will, to an extent inevitably, happen. But of course it is not really feasible to establish which country is responsible to what extent. And some would deny all responsibility, or even that there is anything to be responsible for.
How does this become relevant in Afghanistan's case? What analogy do I see here?
Well, think of how interventions in general are usually conceptualised in Western discourse since the end of the Cold War. There is talk of humanitarian intervention, which many think in some extreme cases should be more than just a possibility, or a right to intervene: that is why the principle of R2P emerged - as a responsibility to protect state populations potentially even against (not-so) sovereigns, when war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or ethnic cleansing occur.
And then there is also what I sometimes refer to as the 9/11 "Aha!" experience in the discourse of intervention, when it was brought home to many more people than before that intervention will sometimes not really be such an altruistic business after all (as in fact it never was), and it could as well, say, stem from a country's security needs and interests to enter the picture in force somewhere.
So, in a place like Afghanistan, it is not really a humanitarian intervention that occurred, as some point out from time to time, but something that was dictated by the West's security interests... (Which used to be kinda obvious directly after September 11, 2001.)
But that's hardly all that there can be to interventions. Security needs cover a wider set of issues than just threats from weak states - and whatever spills over from them every now and then. The Cold War's history is full of interventions that served geopolitical aims. Denying a stable foothold to an adversary somewhere. Or fighting off a challenge from the other in support of the incumbent against the insurgents. That's how proxy battlegrounds, such as Afghanistan, emerged.
And of course economic interests should not be forgotten, either, if this enumeration of possible causes and motives behind interventions is to be as near to being comprehensive as possible. Economic interests may dictate interventions, too.
(Perhaps it is needless but let's say it anyway, "intervention" shall be interpreted in a broader sense here: adding game-changing financing, military technology, assets or even just training to certain parties of an intra-state conflict may already amount to intervention in my interpretation here - so interpret my remarks about the Cold War era with this in mind).
Why is this important?
Because it is not really either a case of fighting for our security interests in Afghanistan, or being there just because we care too much about Afghans, and we want things that are hopelessly too good for them, such as democracy. It's not really a case of EITHER kill-or-be-killed OR luxury altruism.
The way that choice is framed is deceiving, at least from an ethical point of view.
I would never say that there are no security interests for the West in Afghanistan (those who think so are in for some big surprises, should they get the upper hand in the current policy debates at some point). The point is that there is something else beyond the possibility of being so good as to care about Afghans even if one doesn't see security interests in their country any more. This is something that a principle like R2P doesn't take account of. R2P is a remote opportunity to be beautiful, from time to time, in an international (I should really rather say interstate) beauty contest, in some of the more convenient cases, the way it currently functions.
In the case of a country like Afghanistan, acknowledging a causal responsibility to protect could come up as well. Give it a nice abbreviation, such as CR2P, if you like.
That is why the "saving Afghanistan/don't let it fail again" discourse is soooo bad to listen to. Some of the countries there to save it, and worried about its failure, involved in state-building now, have been part of state-destroying there for over a decade. All that came to happen, and all of the implications up till today, definitely aren't all their fault. The reasons of all the problems in Afghanistan cannot be simply externalised, not even if one goes back to the age of the Great Game. But there is responsibility for what happened, there is a need to see that Afghans and Afghanistan are the way they are at the moment partly because of the past policies of many countries there now to "save" them, and there is a need to understand that, from a moral point of view, walking away at a certain point holding one's hands up saying sorry, by this time we had enough of luxury altruism, is not so clearly alright.
Feel free to say "But that's not how politics work! Keep morals out of this!" And yet all the consequences of a world politics without ethical considerations playing at least an indirect role, forcing actors to behave in certain ways rather than in others, structuring actions and reactions, would probably not make you feel very comfortable. And it is not really that sort of world that you're living in at this point.
So perhaps it is not such a big thing to suggest that one can, at times, step back a little, take an abstract perspective, and understand how differently things might look from a new vantage point. To use some illustration here, here's a pic of Afghanistan from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Or so the caption says where I found it. Is that high and far and fresh enough for a new vantage point, to see some validity to my arguments regarding CR2P?

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